Title: The Strongest Wish Of All.
Rating : G.
Word Count: 15851
Challenge: Written in celebration of Harry Potter's birthday. This is my response to melia83's challenge prompt: Acceptance.
Disclaimer: Don't own these characters. No money is being made out of this work.
Summary: Harry Potter teaches Severus Snape that the strongest wish of all isn't the one you whisper over a birthday candle or demand from a falling star. The strongest wish of all is the one you keep holding onto. The one you fight tirelessly for. The one you never let go...
A/N: I want to gift this particular story to melia83, who is the kind of wonderful reader who regularly puts up with -and even claims to enjoy- my penchant for writing 100 word drabbles, even though she likes my longer stories better and often complains that I don't write as many of those as I probably should.
In an effort to show her my appreciation for both, her constant support of my work and her endless patience with my short stories, I offered to write her a fic in response to a one-word challenge of her choice. The only rule we set at the time was that the resulting story had to be more than 100 words in length. So here it is, melia: a 15K+ story just for you. This is my answer to your challenge prompt: Acceptance. I sincerely hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it, my friend. :D
The Strongest Wish Of All
Courage doesn't always roar.
Sometimes courage is the quiet voice
at the end of the day saying:
'I will try again tomorrow'
- Mary Anne Radmacher.
"You wanted to see me, Headmistress?" Harry asked cautiously, eyeing the familiar brown folder sitting atop Minerva's desk with a sinking heart.
"Severus has lodged another complaint against you, Harry. He's insisting that you tried to poison him yesterday afternoon with... a basket of nougat?"
Harry sighed warily, leaning forwards in his chair ever so slightly and propping his elbows atop his thighs in the kind of relaxed open gesture that immediately told her that Severus had misinterpreted the entire situation, as usual.
"I was trying to entice him into accepting a dinner invitation, now that the kids have finally gone home and we are both supposed to be enjoying our Summer vacation. But you know how... cagey... he can be about getting involved in any sort of situation that even hints at romance. I decided to purchase the nougat basket as a peace offering of sorts, thinking that it wouldn't be as obvious as a box of chocolates. How was I supposed to know that he is allergic to nuts and, therefore, can't come within ten feet of either? I bet there are only three people alive who are aware of that."
"Two, actually. And yes, Harry, that number now includes you."
Her Gryffindor Head of House did a double take.
"You mean Poppy doesn't know? But... she's the school nurse! What will happen if she ever gives him some potion or other that contains traces of nut?"
Minerva's usually stern gaze softened with genuine affection for the lovely youth Harry Potter had become. All this thoughtful devotion was being literally wasted on a man who wasn't able to appreciate the treasure that he could, so easily, possess. Severus Snape was a seriously lucky bastard, even if he was currently being too dammed daft to realize it.
"You know how he is, Harry. Severus doesn't ever leave his precious dungeons when he is sick. Whenever his health deteriorates to the point where he needs Poppy's care he's already gone well past the possibility of being healed by any sort of nut-flavoured concoction."
Bright green eyes narrowed with evident displeasure and an utterly exhausted sigh rent the air.
"Still... There's no need for all this secrecy, is there? I'd have never tried to give him that blasted candy if I'd known he's allergic, for Merlin's sake!"
Minerva patted his white-knuckled fist with motherly affection.
"So, just for the record, you were not trying to poison my deputy with your wicked basket full of nougat. Is that correct?"
Her attempt at humour fell quite short of the mark when Harry didn't crack a single smile. He looked pale and literally sickened with horror. His eyes shone a bright green, so very green... They were wet with unshed tears and widened almost to capacity as he pleaded with raw-toned anguish.
"Do not ever say such a thing. Not even in jest, Minerva. I could have killed him. Killed him! I don't know what I'd have done if I harmed Severus, no matter how unintentionally..."
"I don't understand what I'm doing wrong. I can't get it through his thick skull that I'm not trying to hurt him. I just want to date the blasted man, for crying out loud! Getting that point across shouldn't require regular trips to your office. How many complaints has he lodged against me in the last eighteen months: sixty six, sixty seven?"
"I'm afraid you've missed some. I've counted eighty two so far and he's growing quite frustrated."
Harry growled with vexation:
"He is frustrated? Well... I'm at the end of my tether too, Minerva. I've stayed behind this Summer just to try and clear the air between us. I've been attempting to speak to him about this, but he enjoys twisting my words out of context. He doesn't want to listen and it's driving me up the wall!"
She shook her head in despairing exasperation with her absent deputy.
"Oh, what a mess, Harry... I wish I could force some sense into him, but Severus can be rather wilful when he feels corralled. I'm beginning to think that the terrible curse that has been steadily destroying his every attempt to have a successful love life since his coming of age is starting to affect you."
Harry jerked forwards in his chair and stared at her through narrowed green eyes:
"Curse? What curse?"
"The one he is under, of course. He's fated to be tragically unlucky in love, Harry, and after spending the last twenty years trying to convince him to keep fighting against the terrible designs of his curse, I'm beginning to agree with his view about the pointlessness of battling one's own fate.
"I mean look at you, Harry. You're attractive, successful, a hero... You never had problems snaring yourself a boyfriend before you set your sights on him. But Severus is convinced that he's cursed and is using that belief as an excuse to push you away. He's doing it for your own good, I can see that, but still..."
"He thinks he's cursed to be unlucky in love? That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard... Why hasn't he told me any of this before?"
Her gaze filled with the despairing little shadows that were never far away whenever she thought about Severus' solitary existence.
"I think he is embarrassed by the unusual nature of his curse. I'm also pretty certain that he's grown to care very deeply for you, despite the fact that he's trying his best to drive you away. He's scared out of his mind and there is nothing you can do to sway him. Trust me about that, Harry. Severus is too stubborn for his own good. You'll continue collecting complaints until either he demands that you keep your distance or you give up on him altogether and move back to London."
"I'm not giving up on him, Minerva. That's what my mother did. And his parents. Severus became dark because everyone gave up on him too soon. He might be stubborn when he's scared, but he has always managed to find the courage to try to reach out for what he wants. No one ever gave him enough patience, that's why he ended up reaching out for help too late and making the mistake of pledging himself to the one person who seemed to still genuinely want him."
"Voldermort didn't want him at all, Harry. At least not in the way Severus needed to be wanted. That was nothing beyond a cruelly manipulating illusion that harmed Severus greatly and Albus' thoughtless, decades-long offering of his particularly unique brand of duty-bound affection didn't help that poor boy, either."
"It's true that neither of them wanted Severus in a romantic way, but I do. I want him with every beat of my heart and that's not an illusion. It's the plain and simple truth, Minerva. I will not give up on him just because he's nurturing some half-baked notion that he's meant to endure the soul-breaking misery of eternal loneliness or something equally daft."
"Then you'll have to convince him that his rotten luck can be overcome, somehow. He's too afraid of getting hurt. What's more: he's positively terrified of allowing his awful curse to harm you, Harry. He's been oblivious to your every attempt at wooing him so far because he doesn't want to see it for what it really is, my friend."
Harry frowned, deep in thought.
"But love isn't about luck. It's about commitment. He can't give up on relationships out of... superstition, Minerva. The very idea is ridiculous."
"Fear might be irrational, Harry, but it is never ridiculous. Think about this from Severus' point of view... He's never given his heart away without being as deeply committed as any man could possibly be and yet none of that has ever mattered at all. Love is definitely about luck for Severus. It's a gamble that he's always managed to lose. A wish that has never come true. A longing that keeps on hurting him again. And again. And again...
"You've got to trust me when I tell you that Severus has turned his back on the idea of finding a partner because he genuinely believes himself to have been cursed into loneliness. You won't get a break with him until you convince him that you can cope with whatever misfortune his dismal luck throws in your way."
"But... how did he get that ridiculous idea into his head in the first place? Severus doesn't strike me as the kind of man who'd willingly surrender himself to this kind of... nonsense. He's as logical as they come, Minerva. This garbage about having been cursed into being 'unlucky in love' doesn't sound like him at all."
She sighed with all the heartfelt pity that Severus' unusual situation often caused her. She'd known him since he was eleven. Had seen him grow as far apart from the starry-eyed and extremely ambitious student she'd helped sort into Slytherin as anyone could have possibly grown to be. Severus' school years hadn't been a walk in the park and she'd been way too preoccupied with her own little lions to realize what was happening to the Slytherin outsider. She'd noticed he had problems but had been happy enough to leave the task of trying to sort them out to Horace...
She should have known that he wasn't the right man to offer Severus the kind of help he'd so desperately needed. Instead of trying to find a way to integrate the emerging potions genius in with the rest of his house, Horace had stranded him even further from the rest of his peers by including him in his dratted Slug-Club at a time when there had been hardly any Slytherins at all in it. He'd turned a half-blood waif into their Head of House's pet student and that had enraged every single pure blood Slytherin of that generation, leaving Severus all alone to face the relentless bullying that her own Gryffindors had so heartlessly subjected him to. She'd been blind, so blind...
But regretting the past could not change it, no matter how much she might now wish for that to happen. Here was her chance to redeem herself in her own eyes and Severus', though. Here was her chance to do something to help the wounded man that her long-regretted professional neglect had helped create. Here was her chance to help him find the happiness that he deserved, the very same happiness that he'd cursed away himself in a bout of sheer despair.
"Severus believes in the existence of this particular curse because he cast it himself, Harry." She spoke the words out slowly, heavily, unable to suppress the awful torrent of painful recollection that was rushing to the forefront of her mind. Regret-filled brown eyes closed behind her square-shaped spectacles as she allowed those distant memories to flood back in with a vengeance.
"I was there. I saw him do it and I didn't lift my wand to try and stop him. I can only say in my defence that he'd been drinking heavily. He was ranting incoherently and I didn't believe that his wording at the time could be conductive to successful magical casting. It was an accident. A thoroughly unfortunate accident. Wish Magic turned on it's head by the importance of the date and the presence of the twenty five blessed candles that both, Albus and myself, had spent a good two weeks charming for his benefit with the best possible intentions.
"We never meant to cause him any harm, I swear. We simply wanted to make sure that Severus' twenty-fifth birthday celebration turned out to be as special as he deserved. As special as it is for every other wizard. We should have realized that something was awfully wrong when we couldn't floo directly into his chambers, but we were eager to celebrate his big day and Albus didn't think twice about overruling Severus' own wards..."
As soon Minerva had mentioned the words 'Wish Magic' in combination with the assertion that there had been twenty five blessed candles on the scene Harry's blood had began to ice over. He sat frozen with distress as his green eyes widened with the kind of absolute horror that often comes with full and unmistakable understanding of the cause of a disaster.
His lungs felt heavy and painfully constricted, almost as if they had suddenly become way too small for his own body. His skin prickled with dread and his heartbeat pounded so loudly against the inside of his ears that, for a single blessed second, he truly believed that he was going to be excused from having to hear the awful assertion that he was now certain would follow through sudden loss of hearing.
"He'd received a magical greeting at some point during the afternoon. I've got no idea what she expected her card to achieve but the truth is that your mother must have charmed it to be delivered to him on the date of his twenty fifth birthday, whether she lived or not. She'd been dead by then for long enough that her passing wasn't affecting Severus as constantly as it once did, but not enough time had yet passed for him to be able to cope with such unexpected and powerfully emotional reminder of their past friendship with any sort of... equanimity.
"It was clear from her letter that she'd charmed it during the last weeks of her life, she mentioned you by name and told him how your arrival in her life had helped her see that she hadn't treated him fairly. She'd abandoned him when he'd needed her the most and she begged his forgiveness. Told him that she missed him. That she'd never stopped loving him like the brother she never had. That she still considered him her best friend..."
"He flew off the rail, Harry. Grabbed a bottle of Firewhiskey from somewhere and proceeded to drown his sorrows in it. By the time we found him he was incoherent with rage. He was laughing and crying all at the same time. He was claiming that love was nothing sort of a foolish, unnecessary inconvenience and he wished himself free of its 'perilous trappings'.
"As soon as he saw the candles that Albus and myself were carrying he lurched towards them and claimed that he could think of no better wish than to remain alone forever. Free from the idiocy of believing himself able to have any sort of romantic happily ever after with someone. He demanded to be blessed with life-long misery in love for his twenty fifth birthday..."
Harry felt shattered down to his very bones. To his aching soul. To his cracking heart. To the depth and breadth of his entire being. His throat felt raw with sorrow. His eyes were bright with unshed tears and his voice wavered in and out of focus like a distant echo when he finally found enough strength to formulate a single, hopelessly optimistic plea:
"Please, Minerva, please... tell me that those candles weren't lit..."
Watching her pale face finally surrender to the onslaught of the silent tears that had been hovering for a while in the corner of her eyes was all the answer he needed. It didn't stop the words from hitting him badly, though, plunging him into the deepest pit of despair that he'd fallen into since the end of the war itself as soon as her thoroughly unwelcome response broke out of her lips like a death sentence:
"Of course they were lit, Harry. I already told you... Albus and I were eager to make him happy. We had the best intentions when we created those candles. They were powerful and they worked. We wanted to … cherish him... and ended up providing him with the means to condemn himself to eternal loneliness out of foolish... rage."
Harry rubbed his tired eyes with careless fingers. Pushing the metal rim of his glasses up, towards his forehead, where they scraped ever so slightly against his skin, giving him something else to focus on besides his own steadily increasing internal sorrow. He'd abandoned Minerva's office in a haze of despairing horror after having been informed of the existence of Severus' curse and ended up wandering all over the castle like a shadow or a ghost, desperately attempting to come to terms with the fact that his hopeful plans for the future had just taken a huge and possibly devastating blow.
The more he thought about Severus' situation the more hopeless that it looked, and so he'd traversed the empty corridors blindly. Wearing the kind of thunderous scowl that would have looked much more at home stretched over his beloved's features. He kept muttering crossly under his breath and even ended up being unforgivably short-tempered with the couple of ghosts who'd approached him at one point.
Eventually, though, his instinctive Gryffindor need to seek action rather than wallowing in useless self-pity forced him to head towards the library, where he proceeded to hound poor Irma until she placed a veritable mountain of traditional magical texts in front of him. He then cancelled his scheduled dinner engagement with Ron and Hermione, alleging a terrible headache, and retired to his fireside chair, where he settled for the evening with the fiercely determined intention of devouring every single one of those musty old books as fast as he could manage.
What he discovered, after taking a rather chaotic plunge into the murky waters of ancient wizarding superstitions and all the associated customs that came with them, was more or less the same that he'd known going in. A wizards' twenty fifth birthday was considered to be a very big deal indeed. It traditionally marked the moment when magical maturity was finally achieved, allowing a person to come into his full magical power.
There was no other time considered more important than this in a witch or wizard's life from a magical perspective. A birth could be brought forwards or delayed with magic. Death could be stoppered, thorough means of specific spells and potions, given the right set of circumstances. But a wizards' magical coming of age was impossible to tamper with in any way, shape, or form. It was, therefore, considered to be a momentous occasion. One that tended to be celebrated both extremely lavishly and with almost reverent attention to detail.
He'd attended plenty of 'Blessed Quarter' celebrations himself. Particularly this year, when the majority of his former peers from Hogwarts were finally reaching that all-important milestone. Hermione had forced him to memorize a whole bunch of what he'd considered useless trivia at the time, in over-exited preparation for Ron's 25th birthday, back in March. He'd seen how very seriously the Weasleys had taken those preparations and had witnessed the very same sort of almost religious fervour with each and every subsequent birthday party he'd attended thereafter.
There were so many customs associated with the "Blessed Quarter" that each and every family could literally pick and choose which one to include in their own particular soiree, without having all of them look like exact copies of one another. The one thing that all of them shared, though, was the lighting and subsequent wishing upon the twenty five blessed candles that were the central focus of the celebration itself.
It was generally accepted that any wish made upon those candles was assured to come true. Wizarding superstition regarding that one custom was so deeply ingrained that there was virtually not a single expert willing to cast doubts over the practice. No one dared to even imply that the lighting of those candles could be nothing more special than an old and beautiful tradition. Something nice but not necessarily powerful, or even magical, in and of itself.
Although there had been no formal studies to prove the point either way, to all intent and purposes twenty-fifth birthday wishes weren't meant to be made in jest. Whatever you asked for on that particular occasion was assured to be granted and those blessings, once received, weren't ever taken back.
Dreams had the power to come true at this particular moment in a witch or wizard's life. Futures had been known to change forever with a single whispered desire, so nothing short of the most important and meaningful of longings was ever asked of the traditionally crafted twenty five candles that were meant to be used on that particular occasion. The birthday boy's most near and dear -usually his parents- often crafted the things out of melted wax, imbuing them with all sort of protective runes during their creation in order to amplify their power to grant whichever wish was made upon them, thus reinforcing the superstitious belief that the candles were literally able to achieve miracles.
The more Harry read about it the more he realized that he might not actually be up against real magic. What he was really up against was the firm conviction that a significant flash of ancient and unbreakable power had been released and that belief in itself was a far stronger enemy than any wand-cast curse would have been.
How do you fight that kind of blind faith? How do you reach inside the mind of a man who has spent the best part of his life buried neck-deep in Slytherin pure-blood propaganda and tell him that not only had his childhood pals chosen the wrong side of the war, but they'd also taught him to trust an entire set of traditional beliefs that had all the markings of being nothing short of a giant heap of superstitious bullshit?
And even if he could, somehow, manage to find the right words to do just that without driving Severus to commit cold-blooded murder... What was he going to do, if it turned out that Minerva had been right when she implied that there was a strong possibility that Severus' first -and disastrous- romantic experiences had influenced his decision to embrace the kind of thoroughly illogical belief that he might have otherwise scoffed? If Severus' irrational faith in the power of his self-inflicted curse stemmed from some sort of self-protective instinct that urged him to remain free of any and all romantic entanglements, then they were both utterly doomed. Because there was nobody in the entire world who could possibly out-stubborn Severus Snape when he was determined to be difficult.
Harry sighed with a weary sort of resignation, rubbing his exhausted green eyes with disheartened fatigue while trying his very best not to stare with increasing desperation at the growing cluster of books that had begun to collect on the carpeted floor around his sock-clad feet. Twenty six ancient treatises on Ancient Magical Folklore and still not a single expert had managed to either add some sort of theoretical credibility to the old practice of wishing upon the 'Blessed Quarter' candles or expose the myth as a baseless superstition.
Wish Magic followed no rules. It conformed to no logic, defied every convention and defeated most logical minds. It could also be found at the root of every successful magical hoax ever created. Wish Magic had become the irksome pain in the neck that constantly frustrated the efforts of most professional spellcrafters, blocking off their every attempt at furthering their chosen field of study by becoming the one variable whose behaviour they had never managed to fully understand or even predict, let alone harness.
Casting Wish Magic successfully depended on so many factors that it was usually impossible to control it in any way. It was ancient. Unruly. Unmanageable. It was impossible to direct and it terrified most experts to the point of actual nightmares. Its existence was undeniable, yes. But that did not mean that every claim ever made about the different feats that had been supposedly achieved through its power was as honest as the public wanted to believe. Most manifestations of Wish Magic depended on the caster's frame of mind, on the amount of power he wielded, on the presence -or lack thereof- of either natural or human-made magical conductors in the immediate vicinity at the time of casting, on the amount of faith that the wizard involved had managed to pack into his spell...
Take that necessary level of faith and make it both universally blind and almost all-consuming, through the constant indoctrination of every new generation in the same undisputed traditional convention, and you'd end up with either the kind of legendary power that could very easily have cursed a single drunk wizard to eternal solitude or the kind of unshakable faith that could have led said wizard to believe himself thus cursed, even if he'd never really been touched by any sort of magical energy to start with...
Harry's heart sank as he scanned the contents of the brief note he'd just received. His burning green eyes read it three times in quick succession, frantically searching Hermione's familiar script for anything that he might have missed on his first perusal of the short missive. There was nothing helpful here. Nothing. She seemed to be in agreement will Bill Weasley's professional opinion on the matter, which basically translated into the idea that 'Blessed Quarter' magic was both unbreakable and irreversible, regardless of whether the magical energy required to bring it to life was real or had been brought forth by the wizard's strong faith in its existence. If Severus was convinced that the curse was real then it was real, full stop.
He'd known that he was clutching at straws even as he'd penned his initial letter to both Hermione and Bill Weasley earlier in the day, outlining his new understanding of Severus' horrible predicament and asking for their advise on the matter. He hadn't been really expecting either of them to come back to him with a miracle solution, but he hadn't been prepared for their categorical assertion that the curse couldn't be so easily dismissed as a simple superstition on Severus' part, either. Their insistence that the dammed thing was as real as any curse could be had caught him by surprise.
Now he had to scrap his initial plan of using common logic to dismantle Severus' irrational fear of what he, himself, believed to be nothing more than a pretty -if rather childish- fairy-tale. He was going to have to find a magical way to set Severus free. The problem with that approach was that every single book he'd read so far had agreed on the same seemingly indisputable point: 'Blessed Quarter' magic was unbreakable.
"Dammit and blast it! After everything he's gone through I can't believe that Severus' entire future is being steadily destroyed by a drunken birthday wish." He growled, utterly vexed with both the ridiculous situation and his own inability to find a way out of it. He was also deeply troubled by the fact that, for the very first time in their long years of friendship, he had finally managed to find the one challenge that Hermione Granger-Weasley couldn't help him defeat and that rankled even more because this also happened to be the one battle that he couldn't afford losing...
Harry sighed loudly once again, checking the clock above the mantelpiece for the twelfth time in the last half hour, before becoming so irritated by his mind's all-consuming focus on Severus' desperately hopeless situation that he decided to abandon his utterly useless attempt at reading the last edition of Quidditch Weekly, at least for the time being.
Feeling both unpleasantly caged and increasingly frustrated with himself he leaned back against the backrest of his chair, closed his eyes as tightly as he could bear and proceeded to take deep and measured breaths in as calm a pattern as he could bring himself to follow, desperately trying to will away the unbearable anxiety that was currently coursing through his veins.
His eyes shifted to the left, settling over the industrious figure still bent over a steadily decreasing pile of articles for the August edition of Potions Quarterly and he felt immediately calmer, more contented. Less... alone.
Severus' thin mouth had tightened with irritation when Harry first walked into the staff room, but he'd ignored the slytherin's displeasure and plopped himself on the sofa closest to the window. He'd come all the way down here to spend some quality time with the elusive owner of his heart, knowing full well that the dark-haired potioneer would be occupying one of the desks that filled the back wall of the staff lounge, since today was Friday and, therefore, it was the house-elves' scheduled day to deep-clean the potions classroom and all associated rooms, which happened to include Severus' personal lab, chambers and office, thus making it impossible for the man to work anywhere else but here, even though it was the middle of the Summer vacation and Severus shouldn't have had anything even remotely scholarly to do.
Harry had never actually noticed that the Hogwarts' house-elves had a particular cleaning schedule for all classrooms until he'd become a teacher himself. He'd resented being forced to abandon his own office every Tuesday evening at first, but... since finding out the exact nature of his feelings towards the most irritatingly retiring teacher in the castle, he'd grown to appreciate -and even look forwards to- the scheduled weekly cleaning. He'd never get to spend any meal-free time around Severus otherwise...
"Please abstain from staring at me so intently, Potter. I've done nothing to encourage that kind of attention and it's thoroughly irritating."
Severus' peeved demand jolted Harry out of his gloomy thoughts and he smiled rather wistfully at his prickly beloved:
"I can't help looking at you, Severus. I'm enthralled by your... charms. How much longer will you fight me about the truth before deigning to accept it?"
Irritated black eyes confronted his own suspiciously.
"Since I refuse to accept you in any shape or form it would be less stressful for both of us if you were to abandon your unwelcome pursuit altogether, professor."
Harry shifted forwards in his chair, emerald eyes alive with the simple joy of having those unfathomable black eyes finally upon him:
"So you're finally admitting to being aware that I'm... pursuing... you. I suppose that's progress. We should celebrate this momentous occasion with whatever beverage passes as a nightcap in that rigidly formal mind of yours. What do you say, Severus? Your rooms or mine?"
The slytherin's red quill faltered midway through the article that he was so diligently editing and those expressive dark eyebrows crashed together in a thunderous scowl.
"Do not mock me, Potter. I do not find your manufactured regard amusing in the slightest. One of these days you'll drive me past all patience with this nonsense."
Harry laughed with genuine amusement.
"So you don't consider the eighty two complaints that are currently ruining my professional profile an example of impatience?"
"Those are nothing more than a fairly friendly slap on your wrist. I've been uncommonly restrained so far. Filing a handful of official complaints against your constant harassment is the bare minimum I could have done in the circumstances. I am a renowned dark-arts practitioner, after all. I could have decided to punish your boldness magically and that would have been most unfortunate for you."
"That 'handful' of friendly slaps on my wrist is ruining my CV, you know? If I look at your behaviour from the right angle I could easily convince myself that you are trying to keep me as tightly tied to Hogwarts as you possibly can. You don't need to ruin my chances of finding another teaching job, Severus. I've got no intention of leaving you. I'm spending my yearly vacation right here with you even now, am I not? I have every intention of sticking to you like glue, no matter how ridiculously stubborn you are being about... everything."
Severus blinked, clearly aghast.
"How conceited can you be? I want no part of whatever desperate tale of self-sacrificing romance you've concocted in your head. I'm not going to provide you with the entertainment you seek. You must find some other means of easing your boredom before you annoy me to death."
"I'm not trying to kill you, Severus. I want to look after you. I want to share your triumphs and your failures. Treasure you to the best of my ability, for as long as you'll allow me to do so."
"The only things meant to be treasured are prizes, Potter, and everyone will tell you that I'm nothing of the sort."
"That's where you are wrong, don't you see? All of us find beauty in our own way. You adore your smelly potions and I despise them with a passion. That doesn't mean they aren't worth your time, Severus. It doesn't mean I should love them, either. Despite how many conventional "prizes" I've received along the years for being "The Boy Who Lived" I still believe that the best things in life are not things at all."
"Oh, please... Do spare me the soppy Gryffindor poetry."
Harry smiled fondly at his clearly uncomfortable companion, sitting eagerly on the very edge of his seat as if he hadn't heard Severus' scoff.
"The most important things in my life are feelings. They link me to the small number of people who have the power to make my very existence richer. You might refuse to believe me all you want, Severus, but that doesn't change the fact that my life wouldn't be the same without you. You challenge me constantly and don't think twice about disrespecting me or even going as far as to blatantly ignore me. You despise my fame, downplay my achievements and refuse to accept the fact that I love you beyond reason...
"I'm still here, though. Still enthralled by a man who once hated himself so deeply that he couldn't imagine anyone else ever daring to find him even remotely beautiful. I wish you could see yourself through my eyes... Then you might actually realize that you are a prize indeed. My prize. You are the one person I don't want to live without and that makes you my everything, Severus Snape."
"You are crazy."
"I might be. But I don't think I'd care too much if that's true. I'm happy enough with this madness, my love. I'd be even happier if you decided to stop blocking me off at every turn and gave me the chance to prove my point to you."
"That point being...?"
"That there is something fragile and beautiful between us. Something that keeps us orbiting around one another. We're perfect for each other, Severus, like mirroring images of the same puzzle. I'm pretty sure you could understand my demons as instinctively as I can understand yours. We could be happy together."
Severus shifted uncomfortably in his chair. His hand reached across the desk to place his drying quill on its delicate stand before he allowed his long and elegant fingers to close into a loose fist that betrayed the presence of a powerful emotion.
"I've never been the cause of anyone's happiness, Mr. Potter. I believe it impossible for me to deliver any such thing to anyone, let alone you. You are wasting your precious time with this relentless pursuit. I'm not the right kind of partner for anyone seeking... romantic love."
"Then you are condemning us both to a life of unrelenting loneliness."
"Oh, for Merlin's sake! I'm not such a loss, you know? I'm not meant for hearth and home. It took me years to accept that simple fact, but now everything is easier. I'm meant for... this. I'll be a despised professor until I'm too old to keep on teaching and then I'll fade into obscurity and simply... disappear.
"You, on the other hand, will meet the man of your dreams one of these days and live happily ever after until you pass on in your sleep, joining Albus and his insufferable gaggle of shiny paragons of virtue on their much-vaunted 'Great Adventure'. That's the arduous fate of heroes, Potter. I thought you knew that much already."
Harry sighed, losing that annoyingly cheerful hopefulness of his for the first time since he'd entered the room. He studied his love's pinched expression for a very long time through soulful green eyes that shone with determination. His face was so deathly pale that he looked like a street-urchin on the verge of physical collapse. But his voice was strong and clear when he finally spoke and the words that reached Severus' ears were the challenge of a man who wasn't willing to take "no" for an answer:
"Then we agree on the basics, at the very least. Don't we, Severus? I'm a good little hero and it's my Merlin-given-right to live happily ever after with the man of my dreams. Too bad, then, that my Prince happens to be you, isn't it? Because that means that one of us will turn out to be wrong about all this and I promise you, my love, that is not going to be me."
Harry moped for the next three weeks straight, spending every waking hour pondering the situation with almost obsessive focus while attempting to catch ever decreasing glimpses of his elusive beloved, who seemed to have decided that locking himself inside his chambers for the remainder of his Summer vacation and hardly ever bothering to either attend general meals or venture outside any more was going to deter Harry from trying to pursue a closer relationship with him.
'He should know me better than that by now' He grumbled under his breath whenever his latest efforts to actually see the blasted man ended up hitting another blank wall.
Although their situation appeared to be hopeless, Harry refused to give up. Now that he finally understood the reasons behind Severus' troubling emotional distance he was more determined than ever to find some way out of this impasse. And so he kept on flooing Hermione and Ron, consulting Bill Weasley constantly and re-reading every single one of those musty old tomes about 'Blessed Quarter' magic, searching for a viable solution with ever-increasing panic.
Despite his tireless efforts he'd already begun to lose sleep over the seemingly insurmountable challenge that he faced when Molly finally offered him the one ray of shimmering hope that he'd been so desperately seeking for with a single motherly question:
"What do you want for your birthday, Harry, dear?"
That cheerfully off the cuff reminder that his own twenty-fifth birthday celebration would be taking place in just a couple of weeks opened an entire world of possibilities to him. He sat there, staring dazedly up into her loving features while feeling a sweeping well of gratitude flow through his entire being. This woman had just given him the one thing that could turn his life around. She'd found the key to open a door that he'd been about to believe was closed forever. She'd just given him a chance to try and free the man he loved beyond reason from his cursed fate...
Later that night, after having gone back to the library in search of further research material, Harry allowed himself to smile with unbridled relief for the first time since Minerva had informed him of the existence of that dammed bad luck curse. Wish magic was unbreakable, that much was true, but it could be... un-wished... by the same kind of power that had created it in the first place, at least in theory. 'Blessed Quarter' magic had been responsible for bringing Severus' curse into being and, although the spell couldn't be broken by conventional magical means, the same 'Blessed Quarter' magic that had helped create it could be used to dissolve it.
He'd come to the conclusion that he could use the power of his own blessed candles to "unwish" Severus' bad of luck in romantic matters. He could not go as far as to wish for the other man's love, since any wish that could be constructed as the unwilling "enslavement" of another witch or wizard was strictly forbidden by law, but he could wish Severus' curse away, thus setting him free from his conviction that there was no point in risking his heart again on a cursed relationship.
Dissolving that curse would inevitably dismantle Severus' strongest reservations against finding himself a companion. From that moment on he'd just have to make sure that Severus chose him for a friend. Or a lover. Or, even better, a husband...
The idea filled him with so much hope that he closed his book and sighed with contentment for the first time in days. His buzzing mind settled into the pleasant fuzziness of daydreaming and he finally slipped into the kind of peaceful sleep that had eluded him for weeks. He rested on, musty old tome cradled haphazardly against his chest, while new hope fuelled his dreams and painted a soft smile on his relaxed lips. As far as he was concerned he'd just come up with the perfect solution to their problems. Or he'd have done so as soon as he managed to get hold of Severus and inform him of his wonderful, fool-proof plan...
Hiding behind one of the tall pillars that supported the roof of the corridor where Severus' rooms were located at four thirty in the morning wasn't Harry's idea of a good time. The dungeons were cold, even in the height of Summer, and Harry had developed a liking for sleeping in since becoming a professor that he'd have loved to indulge himself in, now that he could finally enjoy the calming benefits of a proper night of sleep again.
Severus, though, was an early bird with a penchant for collecting all sorts of smelly fungi and similarly disgusting potion ingredients first thing in the morning. He did this fairly regularly regardless of whether it was Summer or winter, although Harry had begun to notice that his excursions had become a lot more frequent as soon as the weather turned warmer.
'I bet that's because there are a lot more variety of plants blooming all over the place right about now...'
The faint creak of well-oiled hinges brought Harry's wandering attention to the present just in time to see his sleepy-eyed beloved exit his chambers before closing the heavy oak door with his usual decisive forcefulness.
Severus took a single step into the corridor before suddenly stilling. Frowning with obvious confusion, as his eyes caught the simple birthday candle that was floating right in front of him. Long, black eyebrows came together in the most impressive scowl as the man simply stood there, studying the cheerfully coloured wax with the kind of wary suspicion that cut Harry's heart to ribbons.
"It's just a birthday candle, Severus. Making a wish before blowing them is supposed to make your dreams come true."
Severus whirled around, pining him to the spot with a fierce frown:
"I know what it is, Potter. I'm just wondering what it is doing outside my doorway, since it isn't my birthday and I'm not precisely known to embrace this sort of pointless traditions, anyway."
Harry tried to smile, despite his growing anxiety.
"Minerva told me what happened on your twenty fifth birthday, Severus. I know exactly why you've been rejecting my affection all along. I just wanted to tell you that your 'Blessed Quarter' wish might have succeeded in trapping you thus far, but my own will set you free. I can't bear the idea of leaving you to spend your entire life in solitary misery. I'm going to wish your curse away."
Severus' scowl became a thunderous glare.
"So this is what you're planning... Do you seriously imagine that I'll encourage you to waste your one chance at asking for something truly worthwhile for yourself on this kind of wild goose chase? You can't change my entire fate with a whispered desire."
"You believe it can be done, though. You are so certain you are unlucky that you've given up on companionship altogether. If my wishing for it upon a bunch of candles helps you realize that you're being a right idiot about this, then I'll gladly 'waste' my chance on the worthwhile desire of having your common sense returned."
"Calling me a 'right idiot' won't endear you to me, Potter."
Harry ignored that pointed barb altogether. Weaving his wand in the air until the colourful candle lowered, twirling gracefully around Severus' head like a token from the old Fae.
"I love you even when you are being a right idiot. Shouldn't that buy me some points? I love you despite your bad luck, too. But I want to help you change it because thinking you aren't lucky in love is slowly turning you into a man who has no hope. Let's start with this candle. Come on, take it, Severus. What harm can that do? Nothing will come out of this if it turns out that wishing upon a birthday candle is just a bunch of nonsense, will it?"
Ebony-black eyes flashed with soul-deep trepidation.
"And if it isn't?"
"Then you'll have a choice to make, won't you? You'll have the potential of being "lucky" in romantic matters for the first time in your life and that means that you'll have no shield to hide behind. I'm here and I love you. I want to make you happy. You could allow me to try it, you know? I swear you won't ever regret giving me the chance..."
Harry chuckled as Severus stormed into the Great Hall for lunch for the first time in weeks. The man was clearly flustered by the row of golden buttons that decorated the front of his dark robes and he wondered how many times Severus had attempted to get rid of the charm that he'd ordered Kreacher to put on them. Popping a roasted baby carrot into his mouth, Harry greeted the ruffled Slytherin and smiled beatifically in response to the death glare that the received for his effort.
"Long morning already, Severus? I would have thought you were enjoying the peacefulness of a student-free Hogwarts. It's a wonderful surprise to see you joining Minerva and me for lunch at long last, though. I wasn't expecting to have the pleasure of your company so soon after you refused to accept my latest token of appreciation."
Severus didn't even bother to feign a passing interest in his miffed comment, proceeding to growl ferociously at him instead:
"What did you do to my clothes, Potter?"
Harry rested his fork against the edge of his plate before daring to rake that golden-buttoned form with blatant sexual interest.
"I haven't done to your clothes what I'm dying to do to them. But I'm hoping to change that in the near future..."
Severus jerked in place as if poked with a rod. He looked hastily towards Minerva, flushing a bright shade of red when his embarrassed gaze connected with her thoroughly amused one.
"How dare you speak to me like this? And in public, no less... You're going to be the death of me!"
"Don't be so melodramatic, sweetheart. There's no one else here beside the three of us and we are all more than colleagues, are we not? We both love you very deeply, even though our feelings for you differ fundamentally in nature. I'm sure Minerva will keep your secret safe, Severus. No one will ever find out through her that your robe buttons once turned a bright shade of gold."
Severus gritted his teeth, clearly annoyed with his attitude.
"Take. The. Charm. Off, Potter."
"Because I look ridiculous, that's why! I don't enjoy being forced to become the victim of your little juvenile pranks. You've got ten seconds to fix my robes or I swear that..."
"Countering Elf Magic is a long and draining process, Severus. I'll try it, if the charm is actually harming you, but otherwise..."
"You know perfectly well that it isn't harming me. It's a colour-changing charm, for Heaven's sake! It's done nothing but remind me of the stupid birthday candle that you were trying to give me this morning. Wasn't that the entire point of your devious little trick?"
Harry's grin of satisfaction could have rivalled the sun itself in brightness.
"So you did understand the significance of the golden colour and why I limited the number of buttons in your robes to just twenty five."
Severus looked uncomfortable. His long fingers curled in two impotent fists and he lowered his head to stare at them for a very long time.
"Twenty five dots of gold... I'm not stupid, Potter. You wanted to put the image of 'Blessed Quarter' candle flames back in my mind. You are determined to remind me of your desire to waste your one chance to harness the most powerful kind of Wish Magic known to wizardkind on me, for no good reason at all that I can see, I might add. Why, Potter? Why would you go that far for a sexual affair? Don't you realize that there are far better prospects for you out there? "
The question was growled so fiercely, so... defensively... that Harry felt the pain it hid all the way down to his bones. Severus' narrow face had become as pale as a ghost's hand and he'd inhaled abruptly, almost as if gathering his last reserves of courage before forcing his dark gaze upwards once again to clash directly with his. Harry's green eyes became twin pools of loving adoration that perfectly matched the gentle tone he used to whisper his very simple, but utterly undeniable answer:
"Whether there are better men out there for me or not is irrelevant, Severus. I don't want anyone but you. I'm. In. Love. With. You. That's the plain and simple truth."
Severus swallowed, clearly stumped. He looked wide-eyed and terrified out of his wits. He also looked strangely hopeful as he simply stood there, drinking in Harry's loving expression as if afraid that he'd never again get to see it directed his way during his lifetime.
"'Blessed Quarter' magic can be tricky when directed towards others. Even if you go through with that crazy plan of yours... there's no guarantee that it will work, Harry."
Hearing his own given name whispered so softly by Severus' velvety voice had the power to knot Harry's already strained nerves into a tight tangle of physical and emotional desire that set his cheeks ablaze, turned his steadily beating pulse into a pounding gallop and brought a roughened edge of gruff passion into his own tone when he finally answered:
"I have to try, Severus. I have to. I won't be able to live with myself if I don't take this chance."
Severus blinked in response, apparently too stunned to do anything other than gawk at him with speechless perplexity before finally shaking his dark head in a brief motion that betrayed cautious wonder.
"You are... amazing, Potter. As crazy as a hatter, of course, but also amazing."
Despite having addressed him by name and even gone as far as to describe him as 'amazing' Severus continued to be as elusive as ever. He'd refused to spend the afternoon with Harry, alleging that he needed to look after a potion that he'd left simmering in his lab and then failed to show up for dinner once again. He failed to show up for breakfast as well. And lunch. And every single meal after that, too.
Harry dithered for three days straight, conscious that the man needed some space to come to terms with the ramifications of his own plan to wish that curse away, but also genuinely unwilling to relinquish whatever ground he'd gained since announcing his intentions.
The more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that Severus did care at least a little bit about him. He had been remarkably patient with Harry's stunts so far, and had avoided giving him a direct answer altogether. He'd failed to laugh with malicious glee upon hearing Harry's rather blunt declaration of love, opting instead for giving him a non-committal little remark and warning him about the possibility of failure, before proceeding to melt back into the shadows. Out of sight, maybe. But never out of mind.
The more Harry pondered Severus' unusual behaviour the more he agreed with Minerva's initial assessment about the Slytherin's still unexpressed feelings. Severus' actions weren't those of a man who despised him and was actively trying get the headmistress to fire him. No. Severus' actions smacked of wary disbelief. Of a lifetime spent on perfecting the art of defensive self-denial. Of the kind of hopelessness and fear that Harry had absolutely no intention of allowing him to entertain for a single second longer.
Convincing Kreacher to Apparate him directly into Severus' chambers was the work of a moment. The old elf had mellowed after the war and now reminded him constantly that it was his duty as a 'master' to settle down at long last and start creating the kind of family that any elf would be proud to serve. As soon as Harry had declared his affection towards Severus, the dark haired potioneer had acquired a new and thoroughly devoted admirer due to his undeniable connection to the Slytherin house. Kreacher would have done anything for Severus if the man had ever bothered to ask him, which he thankfully hadn't, or Harry would have had a much tougher time convincing the elf to change the color of the buttons in his robes or breaching the privacy of his personal wards.
And so it was that Harry Potter materialized in the middle of the potion master's sitting room and instantly found himself on the wrong end of Severus Snape's wand.
"What are you doing here? How did you manage to breach not only my own wards, but also Hogwarts'Anti-apparition charms?"
Harry swallowed uneasily, having finally managed to grasp the sheer idiocy of his hastily-plotted plan to get around Severus' immensely annoying instinct to retreat. He was thoroughly unnerved by the fact that one of the best Dark Arts practitioners currently alive in Britain had him pinned to the spot, not only defenceless, but also unwilling to risk casting a single self-protective shield, lest the action led Severus to the erroneous assumption that he wasn't fully trusted.
"I instructed my house elf to side-along me here. I wanted to see you, but you've locked yourself in your rooms..."
"And you decided to Apparate, unannounced, in the middle of my sitting room? Why on Earth did you do something so stupid? I could have hexed your head off, Potter!"
Something in the way Severus' tone rose with just a touch of shrillness as he voiced that last observation alerted Harry to the fact that his pissed-off beloved was more shaken off by how close he'd come to actually hurting him than by the fact that his precious privacy had been so rudely breached.
"You've never caused me harm, Severus." He dared to point out the truth with disarming gentleness and the tip of the Slytherin's wand wavered slightly before being hastily lowered.
"I could have hurt you right now. I could have..."
Tanned fingers curled around a pale wrist, forcing Severus' averted black gaze to confront his own once more.
"But you didn't. You'll never harm me. You've got to stop trying to protect me from yourself."
Tension rose between the two of them as those beautiful dark eyes studied his fiercely determined features in the growing silence.
"My need to protect you is instinctive, Harry. I've spent so long doing it that I don't know how to stop it any more."
Harry exhaled carefully, fully conscious of how precious Severus' rare confession truly was. Contrary to what he'd been expecting, it now looked as if his courageous Slytherin had decided to take an unprecedented risk: daring to lower his formidable walls just enough to allow Harry a small glimpse of the vulnerable creature they protected.
"Fair enough. Would you at least promise to make an effort to remember that you've never caused me harm?"
Sombre dark eyes settled upon him with frightening conviction.
"I might not have done so in the past, but... This whole thing with you and me... What you want is simply crazy, Potter. You might believe that you are deeply in love with my pitiful self but I'm fully aware of how very risible that idea truly is. I am not what you deserve. You'll find that out sooner or later, maybe even mere hours after having relinquished your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to benefit from the 'Blessed Quarter' magic. You'll resent me for that loss on top of everything else. It'd be better for both of us in the long term if you were to give up your plan to wish my curse away."
A soft smile curved the Gryffindor's young lips and his hold around Severus' bony wrist became utterly gentle, a caress instead of a demand for attention. A soft, delicate acknowledgement of skin-to-skin desire. A silent recognition of affection that froze Severus to the spot with its quiet, heartfelt, beauty.
"But I deserve happiness, Severus, and my happiness is impossible without you."
"No. Whatever you are thinking of saying I don't want to hear it right now. I don't need protection anymore. I've been a grown man for a while, you know? What I really need is someone to hold me when life throws a punch at me. I need comfort, companionship, a lover. I no longer need a champion, Severus. What I need is... a Prince."
After his last encouraging conversation with Severus Harry's hopes for their future together began to rise steadily. The man hadn't come right out and said that he was similarly interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with him, but he'd abandoned all attempts to convince him that he shouldn't give up his birthday wish in order to break the curse that afflicted him.
Walking determinedly across Hogwarts' lawn towards the tall solitary figure that was standing stock still on the lake-shore, Harry allowed himself the freedom of acknowledging that he'd been secretly terrified of leaving Severus' chambers after their last discussion. He'd been afraid that the potioneer would use their inevitable separation to re-build his formidable emotional barriers once again, closing himself off even more thoroughly in a last-ditch attempt to keep him at bay.
He'd spent the entire afternoon in a bubble of over-exited agitation that had received a huge blow when Severus failed to attend dinner once again. He'd ended up turning in bed all night long, worrying himself sick about whether he'd be able to survive another subtle rejection now that he'd finally managed to 'reach' Severus' inner core.
He'd been allowed to offer the man of his dreams a modicum level of comfort and, even though Severus had refused to accept anything beyond a small, half-whispered reassurance, the fact that he'd dared to accept that much, no matter how begrudgingly, had touched Harry profoundly. He'd been allowed to caress his slytherin's bony wrist with just a fraction of the gentle adoration that the man's mere presence so often inspired within him and had been brought almost to tears by the fact that the simple touch hadn't been shunned.
He had finally been offered a glimpse of what his life beside his chosen would look like and he'd been so enchanted by the image that he wasn't certain he'll recover, if his current hopes were dashed. If they turned out to be as insubstantial as a daydream or a mirage. A hurtful little lie told to lure him into letting go long enough for Severus to try to ran away from him. From them. From the life they could so easily build together.
Despite how physically drained he was, Harry had woken up as soon as the first rays of morning sunshine painted his windowpane in glowing shades of gold. He'd abandoned the messy tangle he'd made of his bed sheets and walked towards the window in a half daze, desperately seeking some sort of visual relief with the intention of distracting his agitated mind from the never-ending loop of his own whirling thoughts.
Recognizing Severus' distinctive tall frame against the breathtaking beauty of a Scottish sunrise had given him first pause, and then a flurry of anxious longing to get himself down there and find out exactly what had finally driven the retiring owner of his heart out of his precious bedchambers. Now he walked with a hopeful spring to his step in the cool morning air, straining his eyes against the bright golden light in order to distinguish Severus among the rapidly receding shadows that still dotted the lake shore.
"Good morning, Severus."
"Potter... I thought you'd still be asleep in that high tower of yours. I remember once overhearing you tell Fillius how much you enjoy sleeping late during the Summer."
That delicious, shiver-inducing voice greeted him quietly and he sagged with relief.
"I was too preoccupied to sleep properly."
"Oh! Were you expecting me to show up for dinner in the Great Hall last night?"
The idea of lying through his teeth just to avoid sounding too needy crossed Harry's mind then. But he'd never really lied to Severus' face about his feelings and he wasn't keen on starting walking down that road at this point.
"I assumed that our talk earlier in the day had settled your misgivings about us. Your absence from the evening meal was... disappointing."
Guilt-ridden dark eyes turned to examine him carefully.
"I'm sorry I didn't show up. I needed to think. I still do. That's why I'm here."
"What happens if I allow you to waste your wish on me and it turns out that the magic doesn't work? What happens if it does, but we end up being thoroughly incompatible anyway? I can't deprive you of your only guaranteed opportunity to use that sort of life-changing power for your own benefit. That would be unconscionable, Harry. Magic like that will never be yours to command again."
"I've already told you to leave that choice to me. This is not your wish to risk. It's mine, Severus,and I can't think of a single thing I want more than to see you free from this curse that has ruined your life so far. What is out there that's more important than love, eh? I already have security, friendship, money and a job that I enjoy greatly. Even if I didn't already have some of those things I honestly believe that I could learn to live without them. But I don't even want to imagine going through the awful nightmare of trying to live without you. I'd throw my own luck to the wind and take my chances against your cursed misfortune even if I can not break your curse, Severus. I'd rather weather hard times beside you than look on you, unscathed, from afar. I've been doing that until now and it hasn't brought me joy."
Silence descended between them as Severus looked down, rubbing the scuffed tip of his right boot over the dew-kissed patch of soft moss that he was standing on with a thoughtful sort of gentleness.
"I could... give you sex. We don't need to be officially involved with one another to enjoy the benefits of a purely physical relationship. My luck in romantic entanglements or lack of it, thereof, won't matter much in that sort of arrangement. I've had plenty of lovers over the years, Potter. None of them was ever affected by my..."
"None of them loved you, you mean."
Startled dark eyes jerked upwards. Severus looked flustered and irritated all at one. His cheeks were tinged a bright crimson and he seemed deeply uncomfortable, like a ruffled black cat.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I don't want a fuck-buddy, Severus. I. Want. You. All of you. Not just the parts you believe are safe enough to share."
"You don't know what you're asking..."
"Of course I know. You are the one who can't see the wood for the trees. I've been up all night thinking about this. I've been driving myself crazy practising fucking speeches in front of my bathroom mirror, for crying out loud! And do you know why I've done that, Severus? I've done it because of you. I've done it because I'm absolutely petrified by the idea that I lack the kind of eloquence necessary to convince you that I'm right about all this.
"I know that I need all the help I can lay my hands on just to get past your million and one reservations about us and, instead of charging in like the hero I'm supposed to be and saving the day with my much vaunted magical prowess, I'm reduced to sitting around doing nothing. I'm being forced to twiddle my thumbs and keep on waiting for the right moment to close my eyes like a little muggle kid and put all my hopes on a bunch of birthday candles..."
"Harry, listen to me please..."
"No. You listen to me! You might be brilliant, my love, but you are also bloody stupid if you think that I'm going through this hell just to satisfy a run-of-the-mill bout of simple lust. I could get sex with almost any gay, dark-haired man I bothered to flash a smile at. I could have been boinking wildly for years with anything that moved, but I'm here instead. I'm right HERE. And the only reason I'm here is because this is where you are, so don't you dare offer me a mere crumb when I want the whole dammed meal, Severus Snape!"
The slytherin looked utterly flummoxed. He was pale and wide-eyed. He had taken a single step backwards and now stood slightly turned away, like a frightened doe poised on the very verge of flight.
"I'm trying to give you what you want, God dammit!" He finally shouted, startling them both with that uncharacteristic action and Harry, finally losing his patience altogether, reached out to grab the front of his black robes and proceeded to shake his frame with angry frustration.
"You are still trying to protect me. You're behaving like a stubborn, bull-headed fool! I want you to look me in the eye and tell me once and for all that you want me to get lost, if that's what you really, really, want, Severus."
The Slytherin froze from head to foot. He stilled completely, allowing himself to surrender to Harry's exasperated hold with atypical meekness while he stared rather dazedly into enraged emerald eyes, feeling literally lost in a veritable miasma of sheer longing and terrifying dread.
"I can't say that, Potter. I won't. You're turning me into a bloody hopeful idiot..."
The moment hung, as precious and fragile as a snowflake twirling in warm breeze and they both began to shake from a combination of sheer exhaustion, bone-deep terror and a cautious sort of joy. They were on the very verge of a momentous change in the course of their troubled relationship. They were trying to bring something utterly fragile into undeniable existence. Creating something new and beautiful and real that had only ever existed thus far within the flimsy boundaries of their own imagination.
"One date, Severus. We'll start with one single date. Let's go to Rosmerta's together. We can have her famous roast for dinner and talk about whatever comes to mind until closing time. I'm game if you are, my love. I've already spent ages waiting for this chance. I'm as ready as I'll ever be to move past all this infernal... dithering."
Severus' response was both hesitant and silent. He was using all his courage to remain here, nodding quietly in assent. He was using all of his strength to force himself into surrendering to this last, bright flash of hope before life crushed out his dreams with the bleak harshness of reality. Love... Harry's love... was a one-of-a-kind-treasure. If he failed to seize it when it was so freely offered what were the chances that he wouldn't live to regret it, regardless of whether he was meant to keep it or not?
Rosmerta had lost her mind... That was the one thought that Harry could clearly see crossing Severus' dark eyes as they stood in The Three Broomsticks' doorway and gaped at the over-the-top 'Blessed Quarter' themed decorations that she'd put up for the month, in honor of Harry's upcoming twenty fifth birthday. The entire pub had been magically charmed to look like a frosted birthday cake and every table was now transfigured into colourful "cake decorations" that all patrons seemed happy enough to climb into, in order to take their seats.
"This is utterly ridiculous. I must be having a strange dream..."
Harry laughed under his breath upon hearing Severus' incredulous whisper and then proceeded to drag the still reeling potions master across the packed room, towards the "frosted cherry" that he'd booked for the evening.
"It's not so bad, Severus. You should see what they've done with Diagon Alley... Ron has been teasing me about it for weeks."
They climbed across the frosting covering their huge 'cherry' and Severus sat dazedly atop the bench-like structure that ran all along the inside of the garish red table.
"This is... unbelievable. I suppose that, as first dates go, this one has already earned the right to be called unforgettable."
Harry leaned across the table, brushing their fingers together in a soothing and delicate caress.
"It was already unforgettable the moment you agreed to it, my love. This date has been more than a year and a half in the making. You know that, don't you?"
Potion-tainted fingertips clung to his own with a sort of anxious nervousness and those eyes that filled his dreams looked straight at him, widened and unblinking.
"I'm freaking out enough about the present, Potter. The last thing I need right now is for you to start raking up my past behavior."
"I'm not trying to pick a fight with you, Severus. I was just trying to say that all those... misunderstandings... that we had in the past year or so were the result of actions that had nothing to do with any desire on my part to cause you harm. I never wanted to embarrass or hurt you in any way. Not even when I gave you that basket of nougat by mistake. I realize that you never saw it that way, but... I was trying to get your attention."
"You always had my attention, Harry. What you didn't have was my cooperation. I wasn't willing to fall in line with your desires. I might have played at being oblivious, but you are rather hard to ignore when you set your heart on being acknowledged."
Harry's green eyes glittered with hope.
"Does that mean that I have your cooperation now? Are you willing to be mine, Severus, or are you just planning to string me along for a while longer before dumping me without mercy?"
There was a long, nerve-racking silence as the Slytherin Head Of House looked thoughtfully at him before finally asking quietly:
"Will it be worthy it, Potter? Are you really that eager to suffer through whatever misery life throws our way, if it turns out that you can't break my curse? I think it's time to remind you that you'll get nothing for your troubles besides... me."
The question hovered between them like a pale ghost, hurting each of them too deeply to be simply brushed aside. Harry didn't want to ignore it, anyway. He wanted to stare directly at the core of Severus' greatest fear and then blast it out of existence with a simple, but undeniable truth:
"You've always been worth it, Severus Snape. Your love is the only blessing I need."
Severus sagged against the backrest of his seat, as if all strength had abandoned his muscles in a rush. He looked drained, exhausted, wary. But he also looked relieved, like a man who just had a great weight finally lifted off his weakened shoulders. He swallowed with obvious agitation and when his beautiful dark eyes fluttered closed Harry was left to stare helplessly into that beloved and ashen face without knowing what to do. What to say. What other argument he could possibly use to get this frightened man to risk his wounded heart on him.
"We could wait until my birthday. I promise not to pressure you about our getting together until after I've made my wish, if you want to be sure about..."
Severus' dark eyes snapped open once again. They glittered almost feverishly in the dimness of the room, shining like a beacon of hope that managed to soothe Harry's worst fears.
"I don't want to do that. I don't want to hold whatever we can have together to ransom. I don't want to give you reason to believe that you have to set me free before I even deign to contemplate the idea of having a relationship with you. I don't want anyone to ever accuse me of being with you out of... gratitude."
"What, exactly, are you going to do then, Severus? You've been refusing to give me the time of day for months because you're so convinced that you are unlucky in love that you won't even take the risk of simply... trying. Are you going to walk away? Or are you still trying to 'save me' from 'wasting' my wish on you by implying that you won't accept me even if I go ahead and attempt to break that curse during my birthday celebration?" Harry questioned him quietly, bitterness tainting his every word like lethal poison.
"You might be listening to me, but you aren't hearing a single word I'm saying, Potter." Severus pointed out curtly and Harry forgot how to breathe.
"What is it that I'm not hearing, then?"
"I don't want to know for sure whether you'll use your wish to set me free of my curse or not. I don't want to be present when you finally make your 'Blessed Quarter' request and I most definitely don't want to wait until after you blow those god-dammed candles to say yes to you. To this. To... us.
"I want you to promise me that you'll use that magic to ask for whatever you desire the most, but I also want to be left in the dark about what that desire might be. I want to have the freedom that comes with... doubt. I want to return to the days when I wasn't one hundred per cent certain about whether I was meant to be lucky in love or not. I know that I'm unlucky now and the fear of bringing misery to whoever I dared to care for has been more directly responsible for trapping me in my current solitary existence than the curse itself ever was."
"No. Listen to me fully. I've never been lucky in love. Never, Harry, and there is a very good chance that my curse will remain unbroken forever, even if you do try to set me free. I don't want to risk my heart on you tonight only to wake up on the morning of your birthday to find out that you have not only failed abysmally in your quest to set me free, but are also recanting all your promises for fear of facing my usual unlucky reality. I want you to look me in the eye and tell me that you are certain, utterly certain, that you'll be able to cope with my dismal luck if it continues to afflict me. I need to hear you say that before I even dare to dream about committing to you any further."
Severus' words might have trickled to a halt but they kept on hovering over their table like thin wisps of fragile beauty. These words were far more than a rather desperate cry for reassurance on the slytherin's part. They were the beginning of their journey together, marking the very birth of this fragile thing that they were so carefully fanning into uncertain life. This was the one moment when their incipient relationship could be prematurely destroyed if either of them became too impatient or lost his nerve too soon. This was the instant when Harry Potter either chose to deal with Severus Snape, warts and all, or walked away in search of someone easier...
Their eyes locked in the growing silence as sheer tension began to build an invisible barrier of ever-growing insecurity inside Severus' mind. He began to feel inexplicably distanced from Harry, despite the fact that neither of them had moved a single inch, and he could actually pinpoint the exact moment when the Gryffindor realized that he was about to bolt. Tanned fingers shot across the table, curling swiftly around his bony wrist and pinning him to the spot with a sort of desperate resolution.
Their gazes clashed once again and there were about a million things that Harry wanted to say, a thousand reassurances that he could have uttered into the awkward tension that now trapped them. But he didn't want to frighten Severus any further or allow that suspicious mind to keep wrestling with unwarranted doubts.
"I am certain" was all he said in the end. Three small words that felt utterly insufficient to properly convey the true depth of his beautiful feelings but managed to remove that awful tightness from Severus' face and shoulders, nevertheless. His Slytherin sagged with relief, pinned wrist relaxing within the hold of his fingers as a small and tentative smile began to bloom across thin lips.
"Then we have a deal, Harry Potter. I'll try to overcome the restrains of my annoying curse for you and, in return, you'll promise to be patient with my many faults and put up with my dismal luck in matters of the heart."
Harry exhaled the breath that he'd been holding in a single and remarkably loud whoosh. Then he moved his hand around, entwining their fingers together over the table-top before pointing out softly:
"I believe that your luck in matters of the heart has just changed for the better, my love. You can't possibly be as unlucky as you think. Not when you've achieved the seemingly impossible, according to Witch Weekly. You've just managed to bag The Saviour Of The Wizarding World all by yourself, Severus Snape."
To his never ending amazement Severus laughed at his shameless boasting, shaking his dark head slowly in a playful show of disparaging resignation.
"I knew all that fame was going to rot your mind, Potter. You need somebody like me to bring your inflated ego down a peg or two. No one will want you to fly off into outer space under the power of so much conceited vanity..."
Severus groaned as the weak beams of sunlight filtered past the heavy curtains that covered the lone window in his quarters, forcing him awake with the relentless clarity that was now boldly invading the entire room. He'd spent most of the night turning restlessly in his bed, worrying himself sick over what would happen to their incipient relationship now that Harry's birthday had finally arrived.
The brat had managed to break through his defensive barriers with typical Gryffindor persistence and the last few days had been both painfully disorienting and so frighteningly happy that he couldn't avoid being constantly terrified that they were about to end. He'd never been lucky in love, after all, and joy like this didn't last around him for long...
Luck... was it really as unchangeable as he'd always imagined it to be, or was it a force that could be encouraged to look upon him more frequently if only he had the courage to take more risks with his heart? Was he really cursed or was he merely 'convinced' that he was cursed, thus interpreting everything that happened to him as bad luck and cementing his own unhappiness by his fatalist refusal to even fight for his own right to keep his pitifully short number of joys around? He sighed wearily, both unable and unwilling to think about that particular conundrum any further.
He'll soon find out for sure whether there was any actual point to all this soul-searching, since Harry's birthday had finally dawned and he'd end up learning at some point today whether he'd put his trust on the right man or not. His eyes fixed on the ceiling for a few seconds as he attempted to convince his wayward mind of the fact that he could survive the blow of having Potter go back on his word, but it was no use. He'd allowed himself to grasp onto this beautiful dream of love that he'd been so heedlessly embracing for the last few days, wallowing in the kind of hope that he hadn't dared to allow himself to feel in more than two decades, and he knew that his disappointment would be too hard to bear if it turned out that Harry had really used his birthday candles last night to wish his curse away and, having failed to break it, had decided to give up on him now...
He'd have to abandon Hogwarts if the Gryffindor left him. He'd have to seek refuge far away if he wanted to recover from that kind of deathly blow. He'd need to escape his safe haven in order to forget the one man who could have made him happy if only he'd never wasted his own 'Blessed Quarter' wish so foolishly...
Sighing heavily he turned around, pushing his pale hand under his pillow in sleepy search for his wand. His fingertips brushed something cold and metallic. Something unfamiliar that he couldn't immediately identify and he bolted up in bed, recoiling away from the headboard like a startled and deadly cobra. His heart hammered like a galloping horse against his rib-cage and he took a steadying breath before pushing his pillow to the floor. His breath froze and his eyes widened as his dark and puzzled gaze settled on the delicate silver necklace that somebody had managed to slip under his pillow.
Harry... no one else would have bothered to breach his wards so blatantly. No one else would have cared to offer him such beauty. No one else had the power to rattle him so profoundly with such a small, but thoroughly meaningful gesture...
The necklace shone like starlight under the early morning sunshine. It looked fragile and brimmed with all the protective energy of a powerfully crafted talisman. His hand shook as he reached out for the delicate metal and the chain slid fluidly through his long fingers as soon as he lifted it, warming instantly to his touch and making the skin of his palm tingle with heart-magic.
"Harry..." That beloved name left Severus' lips in an instinctive gasp, he felt compelled to pronounce it with reverent emotion as his eyes finally settled on the carefully crafted charm that hung from the threaded silver. A birthday candle... Harry had gifted him a silver birthday candle on the morn of his own birthday. He'd placed the thing under Severus' pillow, like the loving offer of an ancient fairy, and had left him to discover it all of his own...
This was meant to remind him that his fate had already changed, that his life could bring him blessings every day. This was meant to tell him that he was still wanted. Still loved. That whatever his lion had wished for during his little private midnight ceremony the night before, the outcome of that wish would not actually change their own relationship. This was telling him, in no uncertain terms, that Harry Potter's avowals of love where as real as the silver in his palm. They were powerful and constant, they would not be ever recalled on the strength of his bad luck. They would grow stronger, if he had the courage to continue accepting them. Gifting him with blessed joy from this day forwards, regardless of whether he was still cursed or not.
His eyes filled with an awkward little film of burning tears and he brushed them away with trembling fingertips, trying to wipe off all signs of his own unbearable mushiness before rushing to the floo in a flutter of blind elation. A small pinch of powder, thrown too anxiously over merrily dancing flames, had him standing in the quiet of Potter's small sitting room a second later.
He looked left, then right, across the eerily empty room while his impulsive certainty about how welcome his presence might be here began to wane the longer he stood still, wondering what to do next. He'd just remembered that it was Harry's birthday and that the boy had probably stayed up until midnight the night before to welcome in the day, as was his custom. He'd also remembered that Harry loved to sleep in during the Summer, making it highly possible that he was still asleep on the other side of the firmly closed door that was directly across from him...
He'd just taken a single step backwards, thinking about retreating back to his own chambers, when said door was suddenly pushed open and his gaze fell upon a bare-chested, wand-wielding and wide-eyed Harry Potter who seemed to be as startled about finding him standing beside his fireplace in his sleep-rumpled pyjamas, as Severus himself was beginning to feel.
"I beg your forgiveness for interrupting you so thoughtlessly, Harry. I don't know what came over me. I... I should leave. Let you get ready for the busy day ahead of you and..."
"Please stay, Severus. I... You're the most wonderful sight I've ever seen this early in the morning."
"You need to change those glasses of yours, then." Severus whispered, thoroughly embarrassed by now, and lowered his dark eyes to look down at himself before mumbling with clear dismay "I can't believe I showed up on your chambers in my pyjamas. I haven't even brushed my teeth. I must look like a right fright..."
Potter laughed with a rich, exuberant joy.
"This must mean that it's true what they say about a wizard's 25th birthday being magical in its own way. You are here, after all, looking rumpled and soft-eyed and it feels as if you've just stepped straight out one of my most treasured fantasies... Have you come to wish me a Happy birthday, Severus? You'll get the pleasure of being my first well wisher of the day and also be the one to offer me the one set of traditional congratulations that will mean the most to me."
Severus looked directly into those emerald irises. They were bright and loving, genuinely delighted to see him. They were full of a determined sort of patience, brimming with sleepy desire and flashing with the kind of affection that would probably move mountains.
"I found this under my pillow." He whispered breathlessly in answer, bringing his shaking palm upwards so that Harry could now stare at the flawless birthday candle resting against his pale skin.
The smile froze on the young lips and a frown of sheer confusion marred the Gryffindor's attractive features.
"So you found the lucky charm... Why aren't you wearing it, then? You aren't planning to give it back, are you?"
Severus stepped closer, hand extended between them as if in offering.
"Of course not, Harry. I've come here to thank you. I... this means a lot to me. You are the first person to ever offer me jewellery of any kind. Or this amount of patience for that matter. I didn't want to put it on myself. I wanted to... No. I'm not saying this properly. I need you to put it on me yourself. I'd be honoured indeed to accept this wonderful gift and everything else you care to offer me, Harry Potter, even though it's your own birthday instead of mine and, therefore, it should have been you the one to wake up to my gift and not the other way around."
Tanned fingers tangled with his own and the necklace was pressed against their clasped hands.
"I woke up to find you in my bedroom, clad in nothing but figure-hugging silk pyjamas... trust me, Severus, I doubt anyone could top this kind of gift."
"Get your dirty little mind out of the gutter, Potter. I refuse to allow your predictable army of well wishers to find me... cavorting... in bed with you."
Harry laughed, rubbing Severus' spindly arms up and down in a thoroughly soothing manner while those beautiful green eyes studied his narrow face with searching intensity. Then he pushed himself up on his tiptoes and placed a single soft kiss on the underside of Severus' bristly jaw.
"Are you sure that you want me to put this necklace on you, my love? Once you give yourself to me so completely I'll never let you go, Severus. There will be so much for you to adjust to: I'm irrationally possessive, insufferably impulsive, probably too famous for your taste and..."
"Now who is trying to protect who, Potter?" Severus smiled, relaxing ever so slightly in the face of Harry's own anxiousness and then turned around to face the fireplace, waiting for his companion to take the hint and put the necklace on him. A second later his long hair was brushed tenderly aside and the cold slide of silver over his pale skin made him shiver against the Gryffindor's bare chest.
"True. I should stop all this pesky chivalry and throw you shamelessly on my bed, regardless of whether the predictable hordes of incoming well wishers that you are so worried about show up on my doorstep or not. Something tells me that doing just that will work wonders for my nerves..."
Severus turned around to face the whining birthday boy. He was laughing with indulgent affection and his eyes shone with the kind of soul-deep happiness that made him look breathtakingly lovely to the playful green eyes that were so shamelessly drinking in the wonderfully rare sight.
"We'll have a lifetime of that, brat. But you'll never be 25 years old ever again. You should get ready to face the music before your hordes descend upon Hogwarts, fiercely determined to whisk you away from me for an unforgettable day of laughter and celebration."
Harry smiled beatifically and rose carefully on his tiptoes once again, framing his narrow face in order to bring their gazes into a full on connection before kissing him on the cheek with visible reverence.
"No one will ever whisk me away from you, Severus. No matter how many unforgettable days of laughter and celebration they may offer me in return. Promise that you'll come with me, please. Tell me that you are willing to be seen beside me today. Tell me that you'll face my friends and family, my entire world, on this day when every eye will be focused upon me. Gift me the most precious gift that you could possibly give me, my love, and grant me the wonderful treasure of your unreserved acceptance of what we finally are to each other. Of what we will become one day soon. Tell me that you'll come out with me and face our world for my sake..."
Severus swallowed with overwhelmed trepidation before smiling ever so slightly and allowing his pale fingers to card gently through Harry's wild mop of midnight-coloured hair.
"Acceptance... I've been searching for that very thing all my life, Harry. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't be able to find it until I dared to place the safety of my own heart in the hands of another. A man must allow himself to become utterly vulnerable in order to receive the gift of total and genuine acceptance and I've been so frightened of letting my walls fall that I've spent a lifetime cowering within my slowly crumbling armour. I allowed myself to... hide... behind my curse, until it became the shield I used to keep all others at bay, the handy excuse that nobody could refute."
"It's true. It's all true... I've been the worst kind of coward, Harry. But now I finally have my courage back. I have you and I feel... blessed. Of course I'll face the world for you. I've finally dared to accept you in my life and now nothing short of death will pull us apart. I'm already looking forwards to seeing the shock on everyone's faces when they finally realize that I'm here to stay. I'm looking forwards to everything, really, and I'm glad that my curse kept me single all these years. Safe and... free... of all romantic entanglements until you could come along to sweep me off my feet. I'm glad that your determination to win me over was stronger than my own instinct to retreat. Glad that you are the kind of goody-two-shoes hero who'd never even think of leaving his prince behind. I'm glad that you finally managed to show me the way home, Harry."
"I'm thankful that you waited for me too, Severus, and elated that you finally allowed yourself to become mine." Harry whispered quietly, looking up at him adoringly as the first owls of the day began to arrive, proceeding to hoot loudly on the other side of the window before scratching impatiently at the closed windowpane.
Harry ignored the small avian commotion taking place outside for the time being. Ignored the warning buzz of his floo connection, informing him that he had a call coming in from somewhere outside of Hogwarts, and kissed him on the lips with utter reverence.
"Thank you for being here, my love. You are single-handedly turning this day into the very best one of my life."
Severus smiled against his Gryffindor's lips, feeling light-hearted with joy and dizzy with sheer happiness.
"That reminds me of something that I've failed to tell you so far: happy birthday, Harry Potter."
His lion laughed, kissing him once again with the kind of tenderness that would have toppled giants and Severus felt the incredible power of that simple caress burn his trembling lips before it sank down into the very depths of his being, ready to nestle comfortably there until the end of time. Ready to change both his present and the future he once imagined he'd have to endure, but was no longer willing to settle for. Ready to guide his every step as he finally dared to take his life by the horns and live it as he wished.